The Pain and Strain of Dealing with an Abusive Wife: An Abused Husband's Story
This man's story of his life with an abusive wife is compelling, gut-wrenching, and ultimately—inspiring.
It's a must read for any man who's wondered why his relationship is so painful, why he can't seem to please his wife or girlfriend no matter what he does, or is spinning with deciding whether to stay in a difficult relationship or end it.
It's important education for men who want to arm themselves with information so they can avoid being pulled into relationships with abusive bullying women.
And it is invaluable in expanding the conversation about the reality of partner abuse when the target of the abuse is a man and the source of the abuse is a woman.
As you read about this man's experiences of being controlled, demeaned, and punished (the three goals of partner abuse), see how many of the 7 forms of partner abuse this woman includes in her repertoire:
An Abused Man's Story, In His Own Words
[The author's name is omitted for his protection.]
In hindsight, the signs were there all along.
We’d been dating for six months when she challenged me to a game of chess. After 15 minutes I cornered her king and said, “checkmate.” In anger, she picked up the chess board, threw it at my head, and stormed out of the room. Caught off guard, I spent the next 20 minutes wondering what I’d done wrong. Eventually, I went downstairs and found her, and apologized for hurting her feelings.
We’d been married one month when, for her birthday, I arranged a romantic train ride through apple orchards to a catered picnic in the mountains. The morning drive was beautiful and full of hope, until we pulled into the parking lot of the railroad yard. She changed in an instant, calling me heartless and stupid, insensitive and uncaring. It only proved I was incapable of knowing how to make her happy; “If you really knew me, you would never have picked such a dumb idea,” she shouted. It was later that night she first said she was sorry she’d ever married me.
She would alternate between excitement and energy, beginning new projects and rushing off to new friendships, and then spend weeks in sullen anger, blaming me for every disappointment in her life, real or imagined.
When our baby was 2 years old, she called me at work, her voice dark and cold, telling me she was tired of being a mom and a wife and that she had killed our child, and would be dead herself by the time I got there. I rushed home, to find our baby sleeping soundly in her crib, and my wife asking me why I was so upset. She hadn’t really meant it, she said. She was just frustrated.
We found a counselor. She attended one session and declared she was healed but needed a new job. Thus began 10 years of my supporting her search for a career, with tens of thousands of dollars spent on education and supplies in a never-ending quest to find something that would fulfill her. She took classes in a variety of areas, purchased expensive supplies and equipment (always the very best for her), traveled the country and the world, made many friends, but never actually settled on anything.
Sex was almost non-existent. During our dating she had been quite vivacious, promising that this would never be an area in which our marriage struggled. Soon, it was once every two to three months, and always on her terms. The few times I suggested we engage in lovemaking she reacted with hostility, declaring, “You’re just like all men! All you care about is sex! You don’t even love me – you just want my body!” Foreplay consisted of her saying, “Let’s get this over with quickly.” Lovemaking ended with “You’re such a pig. You’re so fat and hairy. I can’t stand your body touching mine.”
There were no healthy arguments or disagreements, there was only her way. My thoughts and ideas were met with ridicule and mockery. “You’re dumb. Your parents didn’t teach you right. You don’t know anything.” In a journal from that time, I wrote, “She uses her words like a boxer uses their fists, relentlessly and forcefully, constantly dodging and jumping and changing the subject, never allowing me to respond or even catch my breath.”
I was criticized for not showing enough affection, and yet, when I tried to offer a hug or warm touch, I was yelled at for not doing it right. I was criticized for the food I chose to eat, and often had my meal interrupted with, “You’ve reached a serving size, so stop now.” She asked me to pick movies for us to watch, and when I did, would say, “Why did you chose this? It looks dumb.” She criticized every present I bought her, finally demanding I just give her cash because “you never buy me anything I want, anyway.”
We argued over our schedule. Driving in the car one day I mentioned that, with all the trips she was taking, and all of her activities, I missed her and would like time with her. She responded with, “I can’t control my schedule. If you want a date with me, you need to let me know a month in advance.” I told her that seemed unreasonable, and that I’d like to be more spontaneous; she threw her calendar at me, drawing blood from my hand, shouting, “Fine – just write your stupid name in my calendar any time you want to hang out!”
Over time, the abuse shifted to our children. She told them they were fat and lazy. If they struggled with school she told them they were stupid. They were yelled at for choosing to spend time playing video games. In a rage one day she threw away all their toys. She kept them up late on school nights “so they could spend time together,” and then yelled at them for being tired the next morning. I came home one afternoon to find her praying in tongues over them, declaring that their typical adolescent defiance was the result of demonic possession.
I grew tired of banking what had become her lifestyle of all-play-and-no-responsibility, weary of managing a full-time job and all the parenting responsibilities while she was out endless nights with yet more new friends.
Finally, when we were almost bankrupt, I suggested it would be good if she could bring home a paycheck. She exploded, declaring I was being unfair, that she shouldn’t have to work, and that, if I truly loved her, I would get another job or two to meet our family needs.
I was miserable and dying inside. In a moment of despair, I sought out counseling, and began to work on myself, believing the problems lay with me. For a time she participated, but when the counselor began to challenge her on her behaviors, she quit, claiming she knew better than any therapist. I continued, and with help, began to reclaim my life. One day, for the first time, I told her “no.”
Her reaction was swift and fierce, digging in with the usual bag of tricks: insults, screaming, manipulation, vehement arguing. As I learned to stand my ground, she began a campaign to have me fired from my job and discredited by my professional organization. She threatened to take our children to another country, where I would never see them again. She said, “I know people who could make you disappear forever.” She threatened legal action and spread rumors throughout our church and community. She told our friends I was sick, I was having an affair, I was abusive to her, and that I was demon-possessed.
Finally, I described a fight we’d had to my counselor and he said, “I think it’s time you consider that you might be in an abusive relationship.” That moment changed my life. Suddenly, it was all right there in front of me. I’d been trying to save the relationship, I’d been trying to work on Us, and I realized that was an impossible task, because she had no desire to change. She was content, so long as I complied with her impossible demands, and when I stood up for myself and our children, the only recourse she had was to crush me. She had no interest in building a healthy relationship based on mutuality and respect, she only wanted to maintain the status quo and would use any tactic to keep it that way.
I continued to work on myself, hoping that with time she might change, but things only became worse. For a time, if only for our children, I prayed for a miracle that our marriage could be saved. We separated for a few months, but while I sought out healing she carried on her scorched-earth campaign. She got into my email and wrote scathing letters to mutual friends. She met with my colleagues and spun tails of the ways I was abusing her, and spread rumors of supposed affairs I was carrying on.
I would often go to our basement for some quiet moments listening to the local baseball team on the radio. One evening after she had been in the house visiting the kids, I went down to discover she had thrown my transistor radio through the wall, shattering it and leaving an ugly gouge in our drywall.
Eventually, a mentor had the courage to look me in the eye and say, “It’s time to divorce her.” I knew they were right. I couldn’t save Us, I couldn’t change her. I could only seek healing for myself, and safety for the children.
With the help of a therapist, a great lawyer, and supportive friends I got away from her, and even retained primary custody of our children. It became uglier before it got better, but once I understood how truly, deeply abusive she was, I had a clear direction of how to move forward.
Divorcing her was a key factor in regaining my life, but it didn’t end the abuse.
She retained parental rights, so there was still the necessary communication about organizing schedules and making important decisions. On almost every level she demanded her rights, but refused her responsibilities, and I continued to pay every school fee, driver’s ed registration, and medical bill while covering all the transportation duties. Too many times the children called from her house in tears after enduring yet another angry tirade. I received regular text messages denouncing my parenting and my life choices.
A friend offered me a copy of Ann Silvers’ book Abuse OF Men BY Women: It Happens, It Hurts, and It's Time to Get Real About It. As much as my therapist’s initial insight, the book changed everything. I found definitions to the feelings that lay so deep inside my soul. The hurt and the trauma, the manipulative tactics I’d been accustomed to were laid out clearly. My own defense tactics (mostly diminishing and deflecting) were named. Being able to recognize the abuse at every level allowed me to finally process the grief, the trauma, the triggers, and all the pain I had endured.
Thankfully, it became better. I developed better skills at ignoring her jabs. I found the strength to stand up for myself and make my own needs a priority. My children began to find reasons to avoid visits with her. She responded with screaming and manipulation, which only drove them away more. Eventually, in seeking their own health and safety, they chose to cut her out of their lives completely. Today, they are doing well.
As the years have passed, I continue to heal. I am remarried to a kind and compassionate woman, and finally get to experience the joys of a healthy, respectful relationship. Even then, old scars remain, and sometimes it can be difficult to trust, to be vulnerable, to walk in health. I still meet regularly with my counselor, and am learning all I can about abuse and recovery. I assume it will always be a part of my life.
One important point Ann made in Abuse OF Men BY Women was that there is a lack of narrative around the abuse men receive from women. I attended conferences, read books and articles, and even received professional training in walking with abuse victims. Overwhelmingly, the stories and examples featured women being abused by men. In no way do I want to minimize the harsh reality of abuse endured by so many women, but the idea of men being abused is often completely absent from these discussions.
For men like me, that leads to loneliness and isolation. Sometimes it means the denial of our stories by friends and colleagues who think we’re over-reacting, or are somehow lesser men for not being able to “handle a woman.” I’ve had the privilege of working with a few other men in abusive situations, and the refrain is always the same: “I thought I was the only one.”
If I had any advice for another man in my situation it would be threefold:
First, get help. A trained counselor is essential in helping you make sense of the world, because the woman abusing you is doing all she can to mess up your reality.
Second, accept that she won’t change. You can pray, encourage, and try to love her better, but she’s not well, and nothing you do will ever fix her. As hard as it is to give up hope, reality is the only way forward.
Finally, while the path forward is painful, this isn’t the end. There is still joy to be had in this world. There are good people, beautiful landscapes, music to move your soul, and possibly somebody who will love you as you deserve. At the very least, you can learn to be happy with your life, and to find love and laughter in this world. It’s okay to let go of this broken relationship and move on with seeking the goodness that exists out there. It’s still a good life, if you take the time and do the hard work to get there.
Abuse OF Men BY Women Book
- Ann Silvers